I am a perfectionist, and a procrastinator. It is not a winning combination, but I think the two traits are irrevocably linked. Every time I describe myself as a perfectionist I shudder slightly. This is due to an indelible memory from school, when I did just that and another pupil shouted loudly to the class that I thought I was perfect. Cue much embarrassment, and trying to correct the whole classroom but to no avail. Isn't it odd what memories remain when other, much more significant, events have long-faded.
Anyway, I was trying to write a post that didn't reference memories, as I fear it is already becoming a repetitive refrain, but it appears I failed in the first hundred words. I’m starting to wonder whether I have a penchant for living in the past. Anyhow, this post has been a few days in the making, several car journeys, a bout of baking, and this morning’s shower have all heard me playing with phrases and snatching at snippets of ideas. I have hit a hiatus, struggling to write without a theme. That doesn't surprise me. Even with university assignments, I find picking the topic the hardest part; once it’s done, the writing comes very easily. Eventually.
I do not, have never, been good at doing things in advance. I don’t ever miss a deadline, but let’s just say I’m the master of the all-nighter. As my mum kindly says, when I’m in impending-deadline hysteria and she is inevitably picking up the pieces, it obviously works for me. I enjoy academia, I tend to get good marks. I don’t doubt though, that my family wish I would do it with slightly less drama, and fewer sleepless nights. Colleagues have identified me as “pressure-prompted”, I hadn't heard this before, but I like it. My current dissertation supervisor shares my work habits (I fear that means that he and I are another combination that is less than ideal), and he calls it “working to deadline”. I like that too, it makes me feel efficient and perfectly-timed.
I just can’t abide starting things and not finishing them. If I do something, I like to do it completely. I have always been like this. I think I was the only teenager whose mum dreaded it when I offered to tidy my room. She knew that it would unavoidably involve a three day endeavour, in which every drawer, cupboard, nook and cranny would be upended into the middle of the room, ready for re-organising and sorting. It was always wonderful when it was finished, and I give her a guided tour, proudly pointing out every freshly folded top and alphabetically arranged bookshelf. In the preceding few days though she just learnt not to look. I think she has repeatedly rued the day she told me “if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well”, oblivious to the literal interpretation that would follow.
Undoubtedly, the need to do something so thoroughly, makes starting it impossible. It feels so insurmountable that I leave it until I no longer have a choice. Until then, it looks like such a huge undertaking I’ll always opt to put it off just a little longer. I occasionally wonder if there is also an element of self-protection in my procrastination. A fear of failure can be dampened if I choose to leave things to the last minute. That way, if I don’t do as well as I’d hoped I can console myself with the knowledge that I didn't really give it my best shot. I don’t know if that’s true, it seems at odds with my perfectionist personality (*shudder again*), but not inconceivable.
I read an article recently that suggested breaking things into smaller tasks with shorter deadlines. It’s nothing ground-breaking but it seems to have stuck. It’s a good compromise. I still get the adrenalin-induced surge of activity close to my self-imposed deadline, but the overall task gets done in steps rather than a final flurry of panic. It seems to be working. But the true test will come in August. If I go off radar the week before my dissertation deadline, then it would seem that old habits are dying hard.